) irishtimes.com - Children’s hospital: Deferring aspects to cut costs was considered - Mon Feb 11 16:02:35 GMT 2019

Children’s hospital: Deferring aspects to cut costs was considered

Last Updated: Monday, February 11, 2019, 16:03

The Department of Health considered plans to deferring parts of the new national children’s hospital including the helipad, outsourcing the kitchen and part of the pathology department, to save money due to cost overruns.

The overspend on the hospital, the cost of which could ultimately exceed €2 billion, and how the details of it have emerged have put Minister for Health Simon Harris under severe political pressure.

Documents seen by The Irish Times show the department asked the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board to provide a report on options around deferring parts of the hospital in order to cut back on the cost overrun.

The date this request was made by the department is unclear from the documents.

The report found capital cost savings of €79 million could be made but that this would have a significant impact on the delivery of services.

It would also require one of the existing children’s hospitals to remain open at a cost of €169 million.

Other options were also considered.

The document states: “the descoping options for consideration would result in the shelling-out of significant areas including but not limited to four 24 bed genetic wards containing 96 beds, ten theatres including two endoscopy suites, 18 critical care beds, 50 per cent of the audiology OPD department, part of the outpatient department, part of the ED and radiology departments, and the 24 bed child and adolescent mental health unit.”

The deferral of the helipad would mean seriously ill children would have to be brought by road for treatment.

No confidence

If the plan to scale back the project were to go ahead, “the building would not work as planned,” the document states.

“The most significant impact would be on children and their families.”

In a note, it states Mr Harris told Government the potential for cost savings through descoping the project was “very limited.”

Mr Harris will face a no confidence motion from Sinn Féin later this month.

On Saturday it emerged there have been discussions about scaling back a 53-bed parent’s wing at the hospital because of rising costs on that aspect of the project.

The Children’s Hospital Project and Programme Board, established by the Government to ensure the project is delivered against an agreed time line, in November considered concerns about the cost of the wing, which is being sponsored by Ronald McDonald House, a charitable arm of the fast-food chain McDonald’s.

Minutes of board meetings show that its members were told that Ronald McDonald House (RMH) had been in contact with the Health Service Executive about the charity’s contribution to the family accommodation unit.

The Cabinet will tomorrow discuss how it intends to generate some €100 million in savings from across Government departments as part of an effort to cover off the escalating cost of the children’s hospital, which is being built on a site on the St James’s Hospital campus in Dublin 8.

About €50 million of the saving will come from the Department of Health with the rest being sought from across the other Government departments. The need to make the saving will result in some other capital projects being delayed.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said last week he has confidence in Mr Harris, who has defended his handling of the overrun on the project amid criticism from the Opposition.

He would not say if Mr Harris should issue an apology to the Dáil on Tuesday over the information he provided the House about the hospital, as has been requested by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

“I have every confidence in Mr Harris but obviously I am not going to pre-empt what he is going to say in the Dáil,” the Taoiseach said.

He said he understood that taxpayers were “very annoyed” about the overrun.

“I feel that, I get that, and I understand that. I know that for a lot of people it will have damaged their faith and confidence in the Government that I lead and our ability to manage the finances,” Mr Varadkar said.